Extras may not count toward child support

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

As parents, we want to provide our children with not only the things they need, but also “extras” to help them be well-rounded individuals, like sports and extra-curricular activities. 

A lot of parents find that a phone and car are essential items for their kids – not just for safety but for convenience.  Let’s be honest, driving kids to and from all of their activities is not my favorite pastime, and they have far more of a social life than I do at this point.

These extras can cost hundreds and thousands of dollars a year. Some separated or divorced parents choose to divide the costs; others take full responsibility. Cars don’t just come with the loan payment, they include car insurance, registration, driver’s ed costs, maintenance, etc., which adds up quickly.

When a parent takes on these extras for their children, they need to be aware that those expenses do not negate his or her obligation under a child support order. If you have a child support order, that obligation needs to be satisfied, and then you can pay for the voluntary extras. Some child support orders may take into consideration extra costs and deviate from the guideline recommended amount of support because the parent, or parents, pay for these additional expenses. Unless you have a court order requiring the horse boarding, teen-ager’s cell phone bill, or car payment (whatever the extra is) to be taken into consideration for purposes of child support, the guidelines do not specifically call them out as a reason to deviate from the formula recommended amount. 

There is the “catch all” deviation factor of “[a]ny other factor the court deems relevant to the best interest of a child,” but I’ve never relied on that factor to lower child support because a parent voluntarily pays for something the child does not need.

Some cases have orders that require parties to pay for these expenses, and set forth the percentage split and parameters for the costs – the order may state that the expenses have to be mutually agreed upon, it may include up to a maximum cost per year, and so on. 

Parents who have been shelling out money for their child’s car, tuition, or tennis coach are often upset when they learn that absent a court order, these payments don’t have a place in the child support formula.  As I often say, support is a “plug and play” program – plug in the numbers it asks for and hit go. There is no spot for me to plug in these costs, much to the paying parent’s dismay. These costs can be excessive, and the paying parent is not automatically entitled to a “break” in support because of it.

Similarly, items that you may provide your now adult children won’t be taken into consideration absent an agreement between the parties, or court order. Not to say it doesn’t exist, but I have not run across an order (absent consent) that requires support of an adult child to be considered when calculating support for the minor child.  I suppose you can always ask, right?

So, before you take on additional financial responsibilities for your kids, understand that those perks you are providing to your children may not be relevant to your child support obligation.  Pay them because you can and you want to, not because you are looking for a credit down the road. Discuss the matter with your ex, read over your court order to see if it requires a division of the costs, and decide what you want to do after you’ve done your due diligence. It will make your bank balance a lot easier to look at.

(The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.)




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